My Husband?

Doug WingoWritten by our friend and development consultant Doug Wingo, Principal at Doug Wingo, Inc.

I can’t completely blame my lack of pride, self-esteem or entitlement on being gay in a homophobic culture, but it is surely one of the consequences. When it rains enough, you get wet, even with an umbrella made of 20 years of therapy.

And where does homophobia come from? Many places, but given my background, I look through a religious lens. Raised a Southern Baptist in the 60’s and 70’s, I fled to liberal Harvard Divinity School in the 80’s, where everyone believed god was a Black lesbian. There, I saw the link between homophobia and sexism – patriarchy. It, not pride, is the original sin. As long as God is a man, we are all doomed, especially us gays.

Culturally speaking, I’ve always thought desiring a man should make me more manly, not less. Of course the opposite is true, and that is a source of shame. Despite the more welcoming world we inhabit, gay teens are still killing themselves. I blame that on religious homophobia. If I never see another God Hates Fags sign, it will be too soon.

The modern LGBT movement rightfully created an annual event meant to dull our shame and replace it with pride. I attended my first Pride March in 1983, in New York City. I had never seen so many gay people. For once, I was in the majority, and it felt great. Who knew in the euphoria of that hot summer day what was to come and how stigmatizing it would be to be a gay man over the next decade of AIDS hysteria.

I was fortunate enough to be able to find work early on in the fight against AIDS. Those were heady and fearful times. We read the obituaries, checked each other for Kaposi sarcoma and worried that the government might actually quarantine us. Talk about a group that needed some pride.

In the midst of all this, at the age of 25, I got married to a Jew at a Unitarian Church in Brooklyn once attended by Walt Whitman. It was, until that time, the happiest day of my life. The wedding delivered a mother load of pride, validating me to the core. I had never felt so accepted and affirmed as a gay person in my life. I went to sleep that night a different person.

Then, life happened. We got amicably, metaphorically divorced after eight years. My parents joined my kid brother in heaven, or wherever they are. But through the decades, I had good friends and good work, raising money for AIDS, LGBT and other progressive issues. Each June I attended the annual NYC Pride March, welcoming the much-needed dose of gay pride, supplemented by nearly 20 years of summer shares at the Pines.

While I am light years away from my fundamentalist past, “pride” is still a religiously charged word for me, and it is charged with sin. Even though I am fighting that, pride does not feel like something I naturally aspire to. In fact, pride has just crept up behind me and bitten me on the butt.

When I was least expecting it, I fell in love with someone who had just escaped the East Village to a new home upstate. We are now settled into a weekend home in Hudson, NY, a new gay Mecca, with its own fledgling Pride parade! And, almost 13 years after meeting in a garden on the Upper West Side, we proposed to each other and are getting married this summer in our garden in Hudson.

No, I know I can’t wear white, but I will be wearing my pride, granted me by the State of New York, and hopefully, as our wedding is in July, the federal government. I know I should find this within myself, and I can, but the legal recognition of our relationship is surprisingly powerful to my sense of self, belonging, safety and pride.

Like many unmarried gay couples we’ve been wearing wedding rings on our right hand, the gay hand, for over a decade. Now we need to decide whether we’ll move our rings to the right hand, the straight hand, the legally married hand?

When the marriage equality movement began, I thought it would take decades for society to evolve. I was a naysayer initially, not because I thought the institution of marriage was completely corrupt, but because I thought it was unwinnable. I feared another vitriolic public battle for acceptance. We had our annual pride parade, our gay ghettos. That would have to do.

But then the country changed, allowing me to change with it.

For years, two of my best friends had been referring to themselves as “husbands,” and I always bristled inside at their use of the word. It was my shame reacting. I never called my first wedded partner/lover/spouse my “husband,” not in public. We weren’t legally married. I was afraid to use the word. It was somehow too gay…

Then, over the past few months, something inside me shifted, and I am now ready to embrace the word my mother called my father, with no sense of humor, irony or shame. On July 6, 2013, and from that day forward, I will proudly call Tim Legg my husband, and he will call me his.

Written by our friend and development consultant Doug Wingo, Principal at Doug Wingo, Inc.